Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Nebrasketball Notebook: Griesel’s Gifts, Catching Fire, Guest Speaker, Pro Big Red

November 15, 2022

Nebraska is off to a 2-0 start for the first time under Fred Hoiberg after wins against Maine and Omaha to open the season. Up next for the Huskers is a road trip to St. John’s to take on the Red Storm in the Gavitt Tipoff Games on Thursday.

To hold you over until then, here’s a look at a few Nebrasketball topics from the first week-and-a-half of the season.

>> North Dakota State transfer and Lincoln native Sam Griesel is off to a great start this season for Nebraska, totaling 40 points, 16 rebounds and six assists while shooting nearly 60% from the field in the Huskers first two games.

On Monday night, assistant coach Nate Loenser joined Jessica Coody for the Nebraska Men’s Basketball Show on Sports Nightly and provided insight into how Griesel’s impact has extended beyond the numbers he’s put up on the court already.

“Sam in general is just huge,” Loenser said. “He’s a blessing to be around He’s a blessing to this program … I haven’t done this forever, but this is 20 years and I don’t know if I’ve been around a more selfless player. He loves Nebraska. He’s so happy to put that N on every single day. He is a professional when it comes to his work habits, how he treats people, how he treats from the secretary to the managers to his teammates to the broadcasters, and it’s not for show. This is who he is, whether it’s people in the community or being able to give his time and wanting to make a difference in the Lincoln community.”

Loenser provided an example of Griesel’s desire to serve others — the fifth-year senior asked Loenser if he could bring over some candy for the coach’s three daughters on Halloween and made sure there weren’t any allergies he had to worry about in the process.

“He literally drives to my front doorstep and does that,” Loenser said. “The impact that makes on your girls, on your wife, things like that, your family, that’s a pretty cool thing.”

If you’d like to read more about Griesel and his journey to playing for Nebraska, check out the November issue of Hail Varsity Magazine, which will be hitting newsstands soon. 

>> One thing the Nebraska has consistently lacked during the Hoiberg era is consistent floor spacing. The Huskers have shot 31.8% (250th), 33.2% (196th) and 32% (263rd) the last three seasons, and without reliable perimeter shooting that opposing teams have had to respect, life in the paint has been difficult for Nebraska’s shot creators.

So far this season, including the exhibitions, it’s been more of the same. Nebraska shot 6-26 (23.1%) against Chadron State, 6-25 (32%) against Colorado, 7-22 (31.8%) against Maine and 7-19 (36.8%) against Omaha.

The shooters that Nebraska will rely on most often to create spacing for the likes of Sam Griesel, Derrick Walker (when he returns to the court) and others to go to work are C.J. Wilcher, Emmanuel Bandoumel and Keisei Tominaga. Through four games, the Huskers have gotten good shooting from two of those three just one time — in the only decent game by percentage we’ve seen thus far.

Over his last 50 games with SMU, Bandoumel shot 35.5% on 5.5 attempts per game; he’s fairly streaky, but he’s capable of getting hot. Keisei Tominaga was one of the best shooters in the country at the junior college level before arriving at Nebraska. He shot just 33% last season, but that had as much to do with shot selection as ability. Those two are fairly streaky, but Nebraska will need them to be on more often than they’re off. Tominaga shot 2-of-9 in the two exhibition games before going 3-of-7 against Maine in the opener. Bandoumel shot 2-of-4 in the Colorado exhibition but went a combined 1-of-6 against Chadron State and Maine.

The most important shooter is Wilcher, though. He shot a team-best 40.6% on 4.0 attempts last season as the Husker’s sixth man. He shot 46.5% over the last three months of the season.

Wilcher has struggled to start this season, shooting 1-of-4, 1-of-5 and 1-of-5 in Nebraska’s first three games before finding his touch against Omaha, shooting 4-of-7 and scoring a career-high 21 points overall. Bandoumel chipped in a pair of rifles on four attempts as well.

“I give C.J. and Emmanuel both a lot of credit for coming out and hitting shots for us,” Hoiberg said after the game. “When you can hit shots against that type of pressure, it’s going to loosen things up as the game goes on. C.J., all these guys, they’re constantly in this gym. 

“C.J., I know, wasn’t happy the way he shot the ball in the last one, but I’m telling you, the guy puts the work in and it’s great to see the hard work pay off. He spent a lot of time before shoot-around today; I thought he did a little too much to be honest with you when he started shaking his arm after shooting around the horn about four or five straight times, but then he did it again at the pre-game meal and he gets a good lather up before the game. He’s just a machine the way he works, but it’s not just C.J. It’s our whole team, it’s what they’re built on — getting extra work in and, like I said, it’s good to see that hard work pay off.”

>> Prior to Nebraska’s game against Omaha last Thursday — the day before Veterans Day — Hoiberg invited a special guest to speak to the team. Alvoid Hamilton is a special forces marine, and he also happens to be Daniel Dawson’s father. Hoiberg said Hamilton’s message hit on a lot of the things that Hoiberg has been preaching with his team throughout the offseason.

“He was unbelievable in the message that he gave our guys and talked to them about leadership and accountability and togetherness,” Hoiberg said. “He talked about the parallels in what we do and what he does. As he leads grown men into combat, in his world if you mess up it’s life and death, but in our world it’s wins and losses. He gave a great message to our players yesterday and I honestly think the togetherness that he talked about, this team I’ve talked a lot about it, how much chemistry they’ve built with each other. 

“But to get that message from a guy that was in a lot of battles and life and death situations I thought was very important for our guys to hear.”

Wilcher said his takeaway from Hamilton’s speech was the importance of setting a standard for yourself and then living up to that standard on a consistent basis. 

>> The Toronto Raptors have had some rotten injury luck to start this season, but former Husker Dalano Banton made the most of a difficult situation on Monday. Toronto was without Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Gary Trent Jr. — the team’s top three scorers last season — against the Detroit Pistons, and Banton made his second career professional start.

Heading into the game Banton had appeared in every game but one, but was only averaging 4.9 points, 1.2 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 9.5 minutes per game. On Monday, Banton upped his aggressiveness in a big way and posted a career-high 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting (3-of-7 3-point shooting) and 6-of-6 free-throw shooting, four rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in 25 minutes as the Raptors beat the Pistons 115-111.

Banton nearly doubled his previous career high of 14 (set in just 13 minutes in Saturday’s loss to Indiana). He came up big when the Raptors needed him, and that’s a good way to earn a coach’s trust, which in turn could lead to an expanded role even when the Raptors get their stars back.

For the record, Banton’s career-high in college was 18 points in Nebraska’s loss to Nevada, his second game in a Husker uniform. Hoiberg said Nebraska fans didn’t get to see the real Banton because of the way COVID-19 impacted him during that 2020-21 season, and it’s looking like he was right.

In other Pro Big Red news, after seeing some garbage time with the Charlotte Hornets (he’s scored 16 points in 30 minutes across five games), the Hornets sent Bryce McGowens down to their G League team, the Greensboro Swarm, to get more playing time.

In his G League debut, McGowens went off for 32 points on 8-of-17 shooting (3-of-8 from 3) and 8-of-9 from the foul line, five rebounds, five assists and two steals in 38 minutes. Shots didn’t fall for him in his second game (4-of-15 from the field including 0-of-6 from 3), but he shot 8-of-9 from the foul line again to finish with 20 points while also dishing out eight assists with four rebounds and one steals.

McGowens will likely bounce between Charlotte and Greensboro all season, and it will be important that he continues to take advantage of every opportunity he gets, big or small, as he seeks to prove to the Charlotte front office that he can be a part of the Hornets’ future.

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